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Court Holds That Federal Law Trumps State Marijuana Law

By on June 19, 2018 in Other with 1 Comment

Twin Rivers Paper Company cannot be compelled to reimburse the costs of an injured worker’s medical marijuana because the federal Controlled Substances Act trumps the state’s Medical Marijuana Law.

Gaetan Bourgoin suffered a work related back injury while employed at Twin Rivers Paper Company in 1989 in the State of Maine. Eventually he received total disability benefits. He was not a candidate for surgery and tried numerous medications, including narcotics, to control his pain. Mr. Bourgoin suffered negative side effects from opioids, and he sought a certification to utilize medical marijuana.

Mr. Bourgoin filed a claim seeking to require Twin Rivers Paper Co. to pay the costs associated with medical marijuana. The company refused, stating the federal Controlled Substances Act barred it from paying for marijuana. The Maine Workers’ Compensation Board ruled in favor of the worker, Gaetan Bourgoin, and the state appeals court affirmed. Twin Rivers Paper Co. appealed to the State Supreme Court.

In a 5-2 decision, the Maine Supreme Court reversed in favor of the employer, finding there is a conflict between the federal and state law, and as a result, the Controlled Substance Act preempts the state’s medical marijuana law.

In reaching their decision, the court noted that federal law bars use of marijuana, and any other schedule 1 drug, even for medical purposes. Therefore, ordering an employer to compensate an employee for medical marijuana costs improperly requires an employer to aid and abet in the commission of a federal crime.

Justice Hjelm noted, “A person’s right to use medical marijuana cannot be converted into a sword that would require an employer to engage in conduct that would violate the Controlled Substance Act.”

The ruling will send the case back to the Workers’ Compensation Division to vacate the decision of the hearing officer and deny payment of medical expenses and services for medical marijuana.  While this decision applies only to the State of Maine, the case is significant because the same rationale can be raised in other states that have medical marijuana laws.

The case can be found at Bourgoin v. Twin Rivers Paper Co., LLC, 2018 ME 77.

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Andrea L. Schlafer

About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Schlafer focuses her practice in the representation of employers, self-insured companies, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation defense matters. Prior to joining Capehart Scatchard, Andrea served as a Judicial Clerk to The Honorable Kevin T. Smith, J.S.C.

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There is 1 Brilliant Comment

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  1. Annette Delahooke says:

    This is a very hot button issue in WC now for everyone; employers, carriers, adjusters and injured workers. The Maine Supreme Court supports the position that we have taken. While it’s all well and fine that the states are starting to make the use of medical marijuana legal, the Federal Law overrides the state. A carrier, employer, adjuster cannot be directed by WC to violate a federal law.

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